Belfast Telegraph

Hospital staff tried to cover up errors after girl (9) died following a routine operation, inquiry told

An inquiry has heard accusations that hospital staff covered up mistakes in the treatment of a young girl who died following a routine operation.

Raychel Ferguson (9) died in June 2001, 36 hours after she was admitted to Altnagelvin Hospital with stomach pains and nausea.

The Hyponatraemia Inquiry into her death and those of several other children heard that two mistakes in her care were highlighted at a meeting held at the Londonderry hospital two days after she died.

These mistakes were not revealed to Raychel's mother at a meeting with medical staff three months later, the inquiry was told.

Nurse Ann Noble, who had been in charge of Raychel's care, said that at the internal meeting on June 12, 2001, medics spoke of a failure to monitor the level of salt in the little girl's body.

She said she had never encountered a child with such a low level of sodium in their blood.

An anaesthetist also told the meeting that Raychel had been receiving too much fluid while in the hospital, Mrs Noble said.

A death certificate recorded excess fluid on the brain as one factor which led to Raychel's death.

"Can you understand how Mrs Ferguson got the impression that there was a cover-up?" the inquiry's chairman, John O'Hara QC, said. "Because, to put it very, very succinctly, the mistakes which were admitted to internally at the meeting on June 12 were not admitted to externally with the Fergusons (Raychel's family) on September 3.

"So, if you were sitting like Mrs Ferguson, you'd think 'that's a cover-up'?"

Mrs Noble replied: "Yes."

The inquiry in Banbridge heard that Raychel's mother Marie left the meeting on September 3, 2001, "utterly dissatisfied", and believing that "this was just the beginning of a cover-up by Altnagelvin Hospital". Accusations of a cover-up were raised a number of times yesterday.

The inquiry's junior counsel Martin Wolfe put it to Mrs Noble that "when a family isn't given the full truth about what happened to their daughter... that's exactly what happened here, there was a cover-up".

Counsel for the Ferguson family, Stephen Quinn QC, said the explosive new evidence from Mrs Noble "beggars belief".

He told the inquiry: "This is the first time in years of this that someone raised at the meeting (on June 12, 2001) that the fluid was in excess of the prescribed rate.

"It seems an impossible situation when we have a meeting when Mrs Ferguson goes... and this is never mentioned."

Meanwhile, Mrs Noble broke down while giving evidence in dramatic scenes earlier in the day.

She was recalling the 48-hour period after Raychel had her appendix removed.

The Derry schoolgirl had been vomiting intermittently over 15 hours.

The inquiry heard that a doctor was not called to carry out a further examination when Raychel did not stop vomiting after receiving medication for a second time to prevent the sickness.

Mrs Noble told the inquiry that she "reproaches herself" for not asking a doctor to carry out a more intensive investigation when Raychel continued to be sick.

When she was asked if she believed, looking back, that nurses got "locked into a mindset" that the situation would be "okay", she replied "yes".

Mr Wolfe added: "Do you accept that had you and your colleagues raised these other features of Raychel's history and pressed the doctor to carry out investigations, that things might have been different?

"I wish that I knew then what I know now," Mrs Noble replied, before breaking down.

The inquiry heard that Raychel suffered a seizure shortly after 3am on June 9.

Mrs Noble described a "panicked" scene as they struggled to administer medication through Raychel's clenched teeth.

The little girl was transferred to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children later that day, but she never recovered.

She was pronounced dead shortly after noon on June 10.

Raychel's death is one of five in children across Northern Ireland which is being investigated by the public inquiry.

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